Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Few Thoughts on The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd


Tahiti 1769. English sailors arrive on the shores of the Polynesian paradise— a place of staggering beauty where magic and ancient myths still hold sway. But they soon devastate the island with disease, war, and death, planting deadly seeds that will be carried back to England forty years later.

London 1812. On a gray June morning, the Solander docks, her hold containing hundreds of exotic plants from Tahiti for the King’s Gardens at Kew. The apparently successful expedition soon takes a horrifying— and inexplicable—turn: The crew of the Solander starts dying one by one. Thames River Police Chief Charles Horton can find no signs of murder or suicide to explain the deaths, and the ship’s surviving crew seems intent on hampering his investigation. When one of the plants begins to show frightening changes, it is up to Charles Horton to determine how it might be stopped.

Atria Books | January 14, 2014 | ISBN: 9781476712871

My Thoughts
  • Lloyd Shepherd's The Poisoned Island takes place primarily in London in the early 19th century, although parts of the narrative are also set in Tahiti.   The story concerns the return from Tahiti of the Solander, a ship sent to the island to transport native plants back to London, and her crew.  Almost immediately upon the ship's return, however, crew members start to turn up dead.  While their deaths don't appear to be related to foul play, police officer Charles Horton investigates them nonetheless.   Horton soon discovers that there is much more to the deaths than meets the eye, including linkages to a mysterious Tahitian plant. 
  • The mystery in this novel unfolds slowly and from various character's perspectives.  While some readers might find these changes in perspective jarring, I think it worked very well for this particular novel as it heightens the sense of intrigue and leaves the reader guessing as to the possible explanation for the deaths right until the final pages. 
  • Aside from being an intriguing mystery, one of the greatest strengths of The Poisoned Island is how vividly the settings are described.  As a result, both 19th century London and Tahiti come to life for the reader.
  • Another strength of the novel is its skillfully drawn characters, whose narratives readers should find interesting.  Charles Horton, the novel's protagonist, is particularly engaging and I enjoyed how he applied newly developed detective/ investigative techniques to his work. 
  • Several of the characters in the book, including Charles Horton, were first introduced in The English Monster, a mystery dealing with England's infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders.  I wasn't aware prior to reading The Poisoned Island that it was a follow-up to an earlier book.  While The Poisoned Island can be read as a stand alone novel, it does include a number of references to events in The English Monster and it is apparent that Charles Horton was much affected by them.  The inclusion of these references didn't diminish my enjoyment of the mystery found in The Poisoned Island, but I did sometimes feel as if I was missing important background information.  
  • Overall an entertaining and well-written novel, The Poisoned Island is recommended to fans of historical mysteries.   I'm looking forward to reading more from Lloyd Shepherd, including  The English Monster

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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